An injury on the job ends up forcing a cop into retirement, but he finds it tough to adjust to the quiet life. Obsessed with his last case, he finds himself returning to his old patrol, brushing aside new friends for a chance at closure—and maybe revenge.
“I’ve been shot at,” he tells us near the start. “I’ve sniffed out bombs, drug paraphernalia, and crime scenes. I’ve chased killers and gang members in the rain. I’ve been punched and had my fur ripped out.”
As the last line hints, the noir core of “Dog Duty” is enhanced by the fact that its central figure is, well, a dog. Fritz is an alpha cop in the Grand City Police Department, but a run-in with a monstrous Rottweiler has left him with one lame leg and a hasty retirement party.
His old partner, Officer Hart, brings him back home to the suburbs, but Fritz can’t settle in so easily. Instead, he recruits his new backyard-mates—streetwise Ernie, a former stray, and dopey young Nipper—to trot down these mean streets in search of the dog who maimed him.
Written by Bobby D. Lux, the book offers a fun, imaginative look into the secret world of dogs. Fritz and his pals take us on a four-legged tour ranging from their cozy, confining backyard to secret dog speakeasies and high-rolling cat races.
The author does a great job capturing the world from a canine point of view, translating everything from doggie love to forbidden snacks to the rough business of discovering who’s top dog. “Only humans care about things like being fair and one-on-one and rules and you can’t do this or that,” an antagonist tells Fritz near the end, “but you got to remember that dogs ain’t like that…there’s just one rule I adhere to: I go home and you don’t.”
Lux is also serious about exploring the identity crisis sparked by Fritz’s forced retirement. Like many of his human counterparts, our dog has always defined himself by being a cop; he’s at a loss when the role is taken from him. Fritz’s reflections on the job convey a strong sense of pride and duty, but there’s arrogance as well as he dismisses others for not living up to his standard. His takeaway after filming a public-service announcement with the local police chief is revealing. “It took Chief Lennox six tries to get his speech right,” Fritz says. “I nailed the bark on the first take.”
Ultimately, Fritz has to resolve these complications before he can make headway in his old case—not to mention his new life. He’s a strong character: wounded, gruff, but self aware enough to change. While Fritz’s development is compelling over the course of the story, the book is at its best when he’s working with the rest of his scrappy ensemble, notably mutt Ernie, who enjoys the doggie pleasures in life and isn’t averse to the occasional breakout to pursue them. I had a lot of fun with the cast, although I do wish the strongest female character, Saucy, had gotten an earlier opportunity to roll with the rest of the gang.
Ultimately, “Dog Duty” isn’t going to win over the dog-show crowd (that bridge is burned), but it’s a great read. Lux has a lot of fun with the setting but plays it straight with the plot, even taking into account one questionable decision near the end by a human crook. (Hey, who said criminals were smart? Not Fritz.) In any case, the dogs run the show, and they’re a delight. I only hope the promised sequel becomes a reality.